Abuse Review Board's Work to Continue Despite Concerns

By Michelle Martin
The Catholic New World
Downloaded June 22, 2003

Two Chicago members of the U.S. bishops' National Review Board said its work to end clerical sexual abuse will continue without missing a beat, despite the resignation of chairman Frank Keating following comments he made comparing some church officials to the mafia.

The local members also called Keating's remarks unhelpful in responding to the long church crisis.

Illinois Appellate Court Justice Anne M. Burke, the 13-member board's vice-chair, will serve as interim chairman until the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops makes a formal appointment. (For more about Burke's work on the review board, see The Interview, Page 7.)

Keating, the former Oklahoma governor named to head the board last June, submitted his resignation to Belleville Bishop Wilton Gregory June 16. The resignation came after the Los Angeles Times published his comments about what he said was a lack of cooperation from some high church officials in a study of sexual abuse by priests.

The flap came just before the bishops' conference held its annual spring meeting June 19-21 in St. Louis. The Catholic New World, which went to press as the meetings were getting underway, will carry reports in its next issue.

According to the Times, Keating said, "To act like La Cosa Nostra and hide and suppress, I think, is very unhealthy. Eventually, it will all come out."

Burke and Michael Bland, a review board member and clinical psychologist who works in the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office of Victim Assistance Ministry, said they disagreed with any implications that the bishops were not cooperating, and they said Keating's comments would not further that effort.

"The goal of the National Review Board is to secure the cooperation of all the bishops, and referring to them as mafia is less than helpful," said Bland, who was sexually abused by a priest as a teenager and emotionally shared his experience with the bishops last year. "To fight it out in the media is less than helpful. That's his (Keating's) personal perspective."

Meanwhile, the review board will continue its work, he said.

"It's important to emphasize that the National Review Board believes it will continue its work without missing a heartbeat, and we expect the ongoing cooperation of every bishop in the country," Bland said.

Keating's comment was part of an article about California bishops, led by Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, declining to respond to a statistical survey commissioned by the review board until their concerns about confidentiality were addressed. In the last week, Mahony said, researchers from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice had addressed those concerns, and the California bishops would return the questionnaires.

In his resignation letter, Keating defended his comment, but also said he always intended to resign after one full year in the job.

"As I have recently said, and have repeated on several occasions, our church is a faith institution. A home to Christ's people. It is not a criminal enterprise," he wrote.

"It does not condone and cover up criminal activity. It does not follow a code of silence," he added. "My remarks, which some bishops found offensive, were deadly accurate. I make no apology. To resist grand jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away: that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church."

He called the sex abuse scandal "a poisonous aberration, a black page in our history that cannot ever recur."

Bishop Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Keating has made an "enormous contribution" to the church in his year as head of the review board.

In a letter accepting Keating's resignation Bishop Gregory, a former Chicago auxiliary bishop, wrote, "I will always be grateful to you for your immediate and generous willingness to contribute to this unprecedented endeavor."

"Because the task you took on was unprecedented and had to be carried out in an intense environment which gives rise to strong emotions under the close observation of the media, there were bound to be moments of difficulty," the bishop added.

Cardinal George told reporters that the resignation would not impede the board's work, but said people who are supposed to work together should not argue in the media.

For the most part, Burke said, the bishops at nearly all the 195 dioceses, archdioceses and eparchies in the United States have cooperated both with the John Jay statistical study and with on-site audits to determine how well dioceses have complied with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, approved by the bishops last year. The charter provided for the creation of the lay review board, the Office for Child and Youth Protection and the very studies that have become the topic of controversy.

"We have 135 responses, and the (June 30) deadline has not yet come and gone," she said. "Some of them will need extensions, for whatever reason: There are large dioceses and small dioceses, some are involved in extensive litigation, some kept good records and some didn't. But they are cooperating."

"Some have much more clarifying questions than others because of their particular situations. . It's important to understand that the survey instrument has not changed. They have been able to adjust the way in which they provide the answers," Bland said.

"That does not mean extensions are going to go on indefinitely. By September, we will need every response."

Those who don't cooperate will be publicly named when the board publishes the study's findings in about six months, Bland said.

In the meantime, critics should look at what the board has accomplished, including setting up the Office for Child and Youth Protection, hiring Kathleen McChesney from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to head it, and getting the studies under way.

"The holy Roman Catholic Church is not going to be known for its expediency, in the same way the government isn't," he said. "In some ways that's a remarkable spate of activity for any bureaucracy. If there has been any foot-dragging on the part of individual bishops, it may have been based in a lack of understanding of what we are doing, or a lack of ability to explain that to their colleagues or staff."

Once the bishops understand, they cooperate, Bland said.

"Unfortunately, that's a process and that takes time and there's no Cliffs Notes version that can fit into a sound bite," he said.

Contributing: Jerry Filteau, CNS


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